"Would you comment on this story?"

nbs_sign600x6001Day after day, your GetReligionistas receive emails that contain tips about religion-news stories across America and sometimes from around the world. We are extremely grateful that readers do this, because there is no way we can read even a 10th of the coverage that we would like to review here on the blog. But there is a problem, one that I mentioned the other day.

One of the ongoing temptations here at GetReligion ... is to focus on interesting events and trends in religion news, instead of keeping our unique focus on how the mainstream press attempts to cover those stories in an accurate, balanced, professional manner. The bottom line: This is not a religion-news blog; this is a blog about how the mainstream press wrestles with coverage of religion news.

I would say that at least 50 percent or more of the story tips that we get are about about news stories that do not fit what we do here. The readers are, it seems, upset about some event that has happened and they want us to comment on the event or a trend that it may represent. The coverage of the story usually seems pretty ordinary, by which I mean that it doesn't contain the kinds of mistakes or gaps that we like to criticize or the kinds of unique insights or sources that we like to praise.

Perhaps it would help if I offered an example. Have you been following the story of the home-based Bible study that San Diego officials briefly tried to shut down? Here's a very ordinary wire report on Fox News and then here is a more in-depth report in the San Diego Tribune, that opens with this summary:

David Jones and his wife, Mary, who hold Bible study in their Bonita home every Tuesday, have landed in the national media spotlight after San Diego County asked them to obtain a permit for the gatherings.

On April 10, a county code enforcement officer visited the Jones' home after a complaint from somebody about the meetings. The officer told Mary Jones that if the couple don't immediately stop holding "religious assemblies", they could face escalating fines of $100, $200, $500, and $1,000, according to the Joneses' attorney.

Dean R. Broyles with the Western Center for Law & Policy, which is representing the couple, said the county's citation violates the Joneses' "First Amendment Right to freely exercise their religion." In addition, Broyles argues that Bible study does not constitute religious assembly under the county's land use regulations, which refer to religious assembly as religious services at synagogues, temples and churches.

Now, there are all kinds of interesting questions here, starting with the obvious: How many people attend this Bible study and are these gatherings larger than similar events involving playing cards, backyard barbecues, "Final Four" hoops parties or Oprah book circles? If there are parking problems, are they caused by the work of God or man? Can neighbors protest religious meetings, but not secular?

There was also information included in the reports offered by religious publications that city officials were asking some very content-oriented questions about these gatherings, perhaps singling out religious speech for special scrutiny. That would interesting, to say the least.

I am happy to report that all of that ended up in the Tribune follow-up report on the resolution -- in favor of the Bible readers -- of the case. Here's one of the more interesting passages, linked to an interview with Dean Broyles, of the Western Center for Law & Policy, a nonprofit organization in Escondido that supports religious liberty:

(Broyles) said traffic issues were not raised when the code enforcement officer first visited the Joneses in response to the complaint. The warning itself does not mention traffic or parking problems.

"Even though the county is saying it's about traffic and parking, it's a fake issue. It's a fabricated issue," Broyles said.

According to Broyles, the code enforcement officer asked a series of pointed questions during her visit with the Joneses -- questions such as, "Do you sing?" "Do you say 'amen?' " "Do you say 'praise the Lord?' "

Sure enough, the county is investigating those complaints about the questions linked to the original complaint. Does that make sense?

The reader who sent me the story ended by asking: "Would you comment on this story?"

On the news reports (which is our job here) or on the contents of the story, in terms of the church-state issues involved? I don't dive into the latter, unless I think that the journalists missed something obvious.

So here's my comment: The stories look good to me.

So what's my point? When you send us URLs (and please keep doing so, folks), please let us know what you think is right or wrong about the journalism in these news stories.

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